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China’s No. 3 leader to meet Russia’s Putin in biggest face-off since Ukraine invasion (state media)

Li Zhanshu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China and the country’s top lawmaker, will meet Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum, Russian news agency Tass reported.

Li is expected to attend the forum as part of a 10-day overseas tour with stops in Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and Nepal starting Wednesday, Chinese state media reported this week. . The trip also makes Li the highest-ranking Chinese official to leave the country since the start of the pandemic, which has seen China close borders and limit in-person diplomacy.

The expected meeting underscores the importance of Russian relations for China, even in the face of international backlash against Moscow after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

It also comes weeks before a critical five-year political meeting in Beijing, where Xi Jinping is expected to break with tradition and assume a third term in power, cementing his role as China’s most powerful leader in decades.

Moscow and Beijing have become closer partners in recent years as both face tensions with the West, with Xi and Putin saying the two countries had a ‘limitless’ partnership weeks before the invasion. Ukraine by Russia. Beijing has since refused to condemn the aggression, repeatedly blaming NATO and the United States for the conflict.

The two countries have signaled that their partnership remains strong, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry saying last month that the two sides agreed to “deepen practical cooperation” during a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a regional conference. gathering in Phnom Penh.

Ahead of his planned visit to Russia, Li made similar comments during a meeting last week with Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Ivanovich Denisov in Beijing. There, Li, who is also chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, stressed that the two nations are “moving in the right direction under the strategic guidance of the two leaders, with firm mutual support and political trust.” constant,” according to the Chinese. state media.

It’s unclear what Putin and Li will discuss at the planned meeting at the forum, which focuses on building investment ties between Russia’s eastern region and global investors and where Putin will deliver a speech on Wednesday.

Their meeting follows an announcement on Tuesday by Russian energy giant Gazprom, which said it had signed an agreement to begin transferring payments for gas supplies to China in yuan and rubles to the instead of dollars. Chinese energy imports from Russia have hit record highs for some products this year as Western countries imposed sanctions on Moscow and Chinese buyers bought fuel at cut prices.

Other forum participants expected to meet Putin include Chairman of Myanmar’s State Administrative Council and Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s Defense Services General Min Aung Hlaing, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Prime Mongolian Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene, according to Tass.